Friday Film Review--"The Sparks Brothers"
Billed as your favorite band’s favorite band, Sparks was the subject of a rock documentary – “The Sparks Brothers” – which streamed at Sundance this year. Linda Jager added the film to her Sundance watch list and is here with her review.
Over the past few years, I’ve found myself continually drawn to the rock film genre, so when the Sundance 2021 lineup was announced, “The Sparks Brothers”, a documentary about a band I’d never heard of piqued my interest.
If you aren’t familiar with the band, you might think the film is a mockumentary, but “The Sparks Brothers” isn’t another “Spinal Tap”.
A self-admitted Sparks fanboy, director Edgar Wright – who most recently helmed the 2017 car chase adventure “Baby Driver” - makes his documentary debut with the film about Ron and Russell Mael, brothers and founding members of the band Sparks.
Through a collection of archive footage and family movies and photos, Wright starts the film back where Sparks began, in 1950’s suburban Los Angeles. Ron and Russell, both star high school athletes and surfers, were far from being voted most likely to start a glam rock band, but they went on to have one of the most enduring musical careers that continues today as the brothers are now both in their seventies.
Sparks has been credited as the originators of many music genres, including glam rock, pop, new wave, and disco, which Wright covers chronologically. Each of the band’s 25 albums, including the stories behind the music and lyrics, and their hits and misses, are chronicled in just under two-and-a-half hours.
Over their five decades of recording, Sparks bounced back and forth between L.A. and London, where their early success across the pond led to the brothers being misidentified as a British band. Staying true to their creative genius and resisting pressure to crank out radio-friendly singles, the brothers struggled to break through to American audiences but did amass a cult following.
Midway through the film, I finally heard a Sparks song that I knew – “Cool Places” - that the brothers recorded in 1983 with Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Go’s.
Augmenting the film’s musical timeline, Wright recruited fellow Sparks fans like Fred Armisen, Beck, and Flea via social media to share their stories of how they discovered Sparks. However, it’s the colorful stories told by the brothers themselves that carry the film.
Rated R and scheduled for a June 18th release, Sparks fans will savor every moment of the film, and if you’re new to the band like me, it’s a fun but lengthy introduction to their music.
This is Linda Jager with the KPCW Friday Film review.